Ralph Kiner's _Baseball Forever_, written with Dany Peary, offers readers a chance to enjoy the gentlemanly voice of Ralph Kiner, a Hall of Fame outfielder and mainstay of Mets television broadcasts since 1962. Filled with amusing anecdotes and shrewd observations, Kiner reflects on his life in baseball from the post-World War II era to the present. His story is told with candor, humor, and reassuring modesty, particularly when he discusses the highlights of his impressive Hall of Fame career in the 1940s and 1950s. He presents a reasonable, fair perspective on all aspects of the game from the post-World War II period to the present.
For those unfamiliar with his career, Ralph Kiner was a renowned home run hitter for the Pittsburg Pirates from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Despite the surge in home runs in the mid-1990s, Kiner remains the only player in history to win six consecutive home run titles-a true testament to his greatness as a player. Two reasons why Ralph Kiner is not better known are that he played most of his career with the cellar dweller Pittsburg Pirates and his career was shortened (to ten years) due to a back injury.
One of the strengths of the book is its structure. _Baseball Forever_ is both a chronological biography and a thematic study of baseball. This balance is handled elegantly. Chapters deal with such issues as players' colorful lives on the road; integration in the late 1940s and the internationalization of baseball in the present day; the labor movement and the rise of the player's association; the value of baseball records; baseball celebrity; and the life of a broadcaster.
Two of the strongest chapters address labor and race. In 1951, Kiner and Allie Reynolds, a pitcher for the Yankees, negotiated on behalf of players for a higher minimum salary, a more generous pension, and a percentage of television profits for the World Series and the All-Star game. This was during a time when baseball owners were all powerful due to the reserve clause, which gave owner's contractual rights to a player for the duration of his career.
Kiner's descriptions of Jackie Robinson's historic 1947 season and the slow process of integration in the late 1940s and 1950s are thought provoking. He provides a snapshot history of many great African American players who came to prominence in this era, including Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe, whom Kiner notes is not yet in the Hall of Fame but deserves to be. Kiner discusses the even slower process of integration at the management and ownership-levels in baseball.
Kiner notes in the Introduction, "it occurs to me that if you combine the years I was a young fan with the more than 60 years I have been employed in baseball, that total represents more than half the lifetime of America's pastime as a professional sport." Reading his book is an opportunity to deepen one's knowledge of baseball and life in America in general. He tells so many memorable stories about the game.
This is an excellent book for baseball enthusiasts of all ages.